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Celebrating a forgotten era in sports history.

"THE BLACK FIVES" explores the pioneering African-American basketball teams that existed from the early 1900s through 1950, the year the National Basketball Association became racially integrated.

Soon after the game of basketball was invented in 1891, teams often were called "fives" in reference to their five starting players. Squads made up entirely of African-American players were referred to as "colored fives," "Negro fives," or "black fives," and the period became known as the Black Fives Era. From its amateur beginnings, dozens of all-black professional teams emerged in New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and other cities with substantial African-American populations.

A collaborative partnership between the New-York Historical Society and the Black Fives Foundation, Greenwich, Conn., this exhibition is as much about the forward progress of black culture as a whole as it is about the history of basketball. "The Black Fives" is drawn primarily from the Foundation's collection and features artifacts, memorabilia, photographs, ephemera, and other historical materials.

Highlights include archival images of the earliest African-American basketball teams, including the Alpha Physical Culture Club, the nation's first all-black athletic club (1912); the New York Girls, the first all-black female team (1910); and team photos of the New York Renaissance (also known as the "Harlem Rens"), Smart Set Athletic Club, Harlem Globetrotters, and the Washington Bears.

Among the exhibition's unique pieces are a 1914 gold-leafed basketball medallion promoting the St. Christopher Club of Harlem; 1937 New York Renaissance vs. Oshkosh All Stars game ticket stub; and complete collection of event programs for the World's Championship of Professional Basketball played from 1939-48, which was won by three different African-American teams.

The Black Fives also features a variety of vintage African-American basketball ephemera, such as newspaper broadsheets and clippings, scrapbooks, game placards and flyers, such as a 1943 official souvenir program for the "5th Annual World's Championship Basketball Tournament"; 1912 "Pittsburgh vs. New York" advertisement for the Annual Christmas Basketball Games and Dance of the Alpha Physical Culture Club; and 1946 placard promoting 'The Game of the Century, Renaissance vs. New Britain Pros."

An assortment of antique team equipment on view includes leather and canvas basketball shoes typical of those used in the 1910s, buckle-front shorts, leather and wool basketball knee pads, and vintage laced leather basketballs.

"The Black Fives" is on view at the New-York Historical Society through July 20.

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Title Annotation:USA Yesterday
Publication:USA Today (Magazine)
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2014
Words:390
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